Tuesday, January 17, 2017
How Robertson Davies comments on the short-comings of his own fiction
Not sure exactly where volume 2 of Robertson Davies's Deptford trilogy (The Manticore) is heading; we are learning the details of David Staunton's life, son of the wealthy industrialist and political figure Boy Staunton, who was found dead in a suspected murder at the end of volume 1. Like many sons of powerful fathers, he has lived his life in awe of his father and in great need for his father's love and respect, neither of which was offered to any great degree. About midway through the volume we learn about the sex life of the teenage David Staunton - his love for the young woman from a prominent Jewish family, Judy, and his initiation into sex when his father provides him with a night with a high-class Montreal prostitute. A couple of things: it seems that night of sex was literally the only sexual experience of David's life. Why is this, and how can it be so? (He's quite clear that he's not a homosexual, neither active nor repressed.) It also seems that we hardly know Judy, nor do we understand why David is so attracted to her - she's an abstraction and an ideal. Interestingly, as this entire volume is told via David's sessions with his analyst, the analyst has the same reaction (which is a way for Davies, in effect, to comment on his own story-telling): She asks why we know so little about Judy. Staunton's sex life is an unexamined region - so far - and is in direct contract to his father's, who was well known as, in the terms of this novel, a "swordsman." It may be that David is repulsed by that and pursues only the chaste and unattainable. The novel is still a good read, but we are losing sight of the thread by this point: If part of David's goal is to determine who killed his father, we're no closer at the mid-point than we were at page one. Ditto, if his goal is o heal the wounds of his psyche - we know a lot about him, as we would with any literary protagonist, but it all fees like back story: Will he change? Will he take action? Davies needs to stir the pot a little.